Saturday, June 28, 2014

GM Notes: Multiple GMs, Same World

As an experiment for our Friday night SLA Industries game, we have decided to rotate out GMs.  Here are what I see as the Pros and Cons of this format.

The Pros:

  • People who normally only GM get a chance to play
  • Players who have mission ideas get a chance to run
  • Nobody has to make new characters
  • One rule set to rule them all

The Cons:

  • Different strokes for different folks, world ideas
  • The players that GM find out some of the secret stuff regarding characters
  • Different "House Rules" per GM can cause confusion

The Pros are pretty self-explanatory, and obviously beneficial, so this post is going to focus on the Cons and ways to get around them, for us at least.

Different Strokes for Different Folks
Especially in a game like SLA Industries, this can cause some unintentional issues.  For example, a character that is approved under one GM may not be appropriate for another GMs game for one reason or another.

In the current game, a player has a PC that has a package (class) that another GM does not allow, therefore, when I am running the player is welcome to play that PC, but when the other GM is running he is not.

This can make for some very interesting events in the PCs lives.  For example, I run my SLA Industries game a little more low-tech than (at least) two of the other GMs.  PC cellphones are closer to the early to mid 1980s style of cellphone, while the other two GMs allow the PCs to have smartphones.

In the last session I ran, one of the PCs went to pull out his cellphone to take a picture.  The PC pulled out the cellphone...and then confusingly put it back, not knowing why he pulled it out in the first place.  This works perfectly with my campaign style.  Now, I will admit, when it was my turn to play I took pictures of just about everything with my cellphone, including sending in a picture of a fingerprint to have it run against a database.

The Players that GM has Secret Knowledge
This just has to boil down to a trust mechanism.  Yes, because I GM, I know your character is working undercover, but my character does not, and I hope I have your trust that I will not use that knowledge in-game.

Different "House Rules" per GM
This is something that the four of us acknowledge openly.  We have actually created a FB group specifically for discussions of this nature to attempt to solidify a standardized set of house rules when possible.

So far, so good.

The biggest Con I really see:  I have about 50 mission ideas, and I only run once every four weeks!


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

GM Notes: Omni Table to Difficulty Conversion

For decades, I have loved the simplicity of the Talislanta/Omni resolution system:  d20+skill+stat+/-modifiers check table.

After a couple decades of running SLA Industries and D6 almost exclusively it seems that while wonderfully simple, it underwhelms me as a GM.

With SLA Industries and WEG d6, and to an extent almost all the games produced after 1990, the common resolution method has been: roll dice, add/subtract stuff vs a difficulty number.

Difficulty numbers are a very fast and easy method of resolution, so easy in fact, that even with all the different task resolution systems in existence, they almost all follow the same basic setup.

5  Easy
10  Skilled
15  Moderate
20  Difficult
25  Very Difficult
30  Impossible

(for D20 difficulty, basically add 10, some numbers have been averaged/fudged for convenience of illustrating the point over exact definitions)

For Talislanta/Omni resolution, it would basically seem to follow the same difficulty as d20, but what about the Partial, Full and Critical Success, not to mention Mishap ratings of the Omni Table?  That is what really brings home variety in a game with static damage.

This is where things can get fun (and this would be easily portable to d20 also from what I have seen).

Raises, or Staging

One of the greatest things found in games like Shadowrun, World of Darkness, Deadlands, etc is the ability to do "extra" stuff depending on how well you roll, Talislanta/Omni reflect this with the Omni Table by having the above levels of success.

Sometimes this can be a bit tricky, or non-intuitive, to interpret.  I prefer things to be straight forward and fast, the less time I spend interpreting the rules, the more time we all get to enjoy the game.  But, I do love me some critical successes!

In keeping with the scaling above for difficulty, degrees of success would follow the same pattern.  For example, if the difficulty of the task is 15 (10+5 for 'easy') and you roll a total of 25, you can see easily that you have 2 'Raises' (25-15=10, 10/5=2).

After that, it is just a matter of telling the story:  "You pick the lock with blazing speed, not very many of the simple locks like that one around anymore."

For combat in the Omni system using this rule it still works.

Attacker Rating (skill+stat) = 6
Defender Rating (skill+stat) = 7
Attacker die roll = 15

Normal method:  15+(6-7)=14, a Success, normal damage is done
Difficulty method: 15+6 = 21 vs Defense of 17 (10+defenders rating), still a success, but more intuitively derived.

Okay, so what about higher levels?

Attacker Rating = 12
Defender Rating = 7
Attacker die roll = 20

Standard method, this would work out to a 25 (20+5), and be double damage.
Difficulty method:  20+12=32 vs Defense of 17, 15 higher than needed, so, 2 'Raises.'

Each 'Raise' could then be interpreted as:
a)  additional +1 damage per raise (eww...that kinda sucks comparatively)
b)  additional +DR of weapon (effectively double weapon damage before STR)
c)  -1 Defender Defense per raise
d)  a mixture of various effects

Let's look at d, because that sounds fun.  The defender would take 2x weapon damage for the first raise, then also be at -2 defense on the next turn as he recovers from the shock of the blow, or is trying to hold his guts in, possibly even from hesitation thinking "Do I really want to stay and fight this guy?"

The good thing is, rolling a total over 20 is now useful, the bad thing though is the inevitable 'Death Spiral' for the defender.

"But what about the ability to successfully Parry/Evade in Omni??" you ask?

Simply a matter of perception.

Normal method is the defender will focus his action on defense and roll d20+rating and if the result is a Full Success or better, the Attacker does not even roll, Partial Success indicates that IF the attacker hits he will only do half damage.

Standard parries (ie passive) are taken into account with Defense Rating (10+ applicable skill), an 'Active Parry/Evade' would work in the following manner:

d20+Defense = opponents difficulty to hit.

Using the above Ratings, if the defender decided to Parry as an action before hand and rolled a 15, the total would have been 32, still would have been a hit, but just barely.

This works great for melee, but what about Ranged attacks?

Remember the #1 rule of ranged combat: take cover!

As mentioned, melee Defense is 10+skill rating, this is fine for fighting face to face and you can (hopefully) semi-predict your attackers moves, but at a distance you cannot tell where your attacker is aiming.

So, my current thought is that Defense against ranged attacks would only be your Evade skill (passive) or d20+Evade Rating for an 'Active Defense.'

Yes, people with guns and bows are a bit more dangerous than people with knives with this setup, but you have nothing to defend yourself with at range, and the attacker still has range penalties.

Just some thoughts going through my head, until next time, enjoy your game!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

RPG: Music for Inspiration and Atmosphere

The question was posed on Talislanta FB page regarding how we use music in our gaming sessions.

I understood that this would be a post way to long for FB, so I am putting my reply here.

The questions presented:

1) a) how many of you use music when you run a game? and; b) if you do use music, do you mainly play it in the background, or do you use certain pieces/albums/artists for specific purposes or moments in a game?
2)what CDs/bands/composers do you listen to either while gaming, or for inspiration before gaming?

I have used music in the past at the gaming table. The second part of the question, and question #2 I want to elaborate on.

While running WEG Star Wars the main theme would be used to get the players on track, and while it was playing I would recap previous events, much like the beginning of the movie with the synopsis scroll.

Since 1993, the game I have run the most often was SLA Industries, a gritty sci-fi urban horror game.

For inspiration in SLA Industries I would use anything that brought to mind corruption, rain, city life, dreams of money and fame, etc. Some of the music I had on my driving CD at the time:

Faster Pussycat - Ship Rolls In, City has no Heart
Metallica - Master of Puppets, Disposable Heroes, Damage Inc
Duran Duran - Girls on Film, A View to a Kill, Skin Trade

And many others.

During the sessions I was able to play music for background it was important to match the music with the game.

Star Wars soundtrack while running Star Wars, a given.

While playtesting Midnight Realms for Talislanta, and a few Cannibal Sector missions for SLA Industries, I had the Black Angels CD from Kronos Quartet playing, just at the audible level. Some of the violin strikes were startling, and completely appropriately timed (players and GM alike jumped at one point, lol).

Music definitely brings a new dimension to the gaming table, even if low in the background.

The main problem I ever had with using music for specific scenes was having to stop the game to get the correct track playing, or you might be stuck running a dramatic, dark scene with something upbeat.

Not sure Alien would have had the same feel with the Indiana Jones Soundtrack, lol

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

GM Notes SPECIAL!: Russian Sleep Experiment Orange Soda

Read this and it really got my mind going.

To sum up, this piece of fiction tells about a Russian experiment in the 1940s regarding sleep deprivation that goes horribly awry.

Depending on the game, there are a few different ways this story can be handled at the gaming table.

SLA Industries: Operatives are sent to investigate a Soft Company and the lab is found a) intact while the experiment is in progress, b) after the experiment is over and they have to investigate what happened (hope someone turned off the gas...) or c) again, after the experiment is over, but the subjects are running loose...

Star Wars:  What have the Imperials done with some of the people on a remote frontier planet?  Well, lets check out the Imperial outpost and find out!

Rapture:  The PCs are sent to rescue people from a prison camp that has been set up, only to find that some of the people have been taken for experimentation.  What will the do when they discover the subjects have been possessed by demons?

D6 Adventure: duh...Russian (or Nazi) lab raid.

Asylum:  Either the characters stumble across the lab...or have volunteered to be test subjects!

Talislanta:  Rumors that the Rajan, or Kang, or Quan, or Farad, or Ur (after discovering some long-lost Alchemical texts on chemical warfare), or even possibly a Quaranian Necromancer-King, have reached more civilized lands and the PCs are hired to rescue the test subjects and destroy the lab if possible.

DnD:  A Necromancer has been using a new kind of undead to kidnap people in the middle of the night.  But the new undead is actually the people being experimented on and turned into nightmarish creatures to be controlled by the Necromancer.  These creatures are then used to kidnap more victims for the Necromancers deformed army.

Vampire:  Hunting out test subjects for Pentex to experiment on
Werewolf:  The tribal shaman or Ragabash has met one of the test subjects while traversing the Umbra and they pleaded with him for help, to save him from a Pentex lab.  The PCs are instructed to do so.  This would also explain what happens when the test subjects brainwaves flatline.
Hunter:  Vampires are out kidnapping people, Werewolves are creeping through the forest...time to get to work boys!
Mage:  The Progenitors and New World Order have teamed up with this new way to control the populace, at least that is the idea.  When word hits the Traditions, something must be done to stop it.

Cyberpunk/Shadowrun:  A contact, or friend, or family member, tells the PCs about this great job they found, it sounds a bit fishy so the PCs did some rooting, only to find out the lab hiring the guinea pigs manufactures toxins for warzones!  The PCs have to save their friend before it is too late!

Obviously, this story can be adapted to just about any RPG (Toon might be an issue...) and would make for a great creepy night of role-playing, or a fun night of killing baddies depending on play style of the group.

Me, I prefer to go with the creepy.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Conversion Machine: D20 SRD spells to Talislanta 4th/5th ed Part II

In my last Conversion Machine, we looked at the differences between Talislantan magic and D20 SRD (DnD) magic as it relates to the most widely used spell, Magic Missile.  We looked at converting the basics of the spell into the Talislanta framework and also a direct conversion that had to use Sorcery elements, making this magical staple into a very hard to cast bee sting.  This time, we continue with Magic Missile and way to get not only the same sort of effect, but make it even more powerful for our beginning Cymrillian Magician.

To recap, this is the spell we want to convert:
Magic Missile
Evocation [Force]
Level: Sor/Wiz 1
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
Targets: Up to five creatures, no two of which can be more than 15 ft. apart
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: Yes
A missile of magical energy darts forth from your fingertip and strikes its target, dealing 1d4+1 points of force damage.
The missile strikes unerringly, even if the target is in melee combat or has less than total cover or total concealment. Specific parts of a creature can’t be singled out. Inanimate objects are not damaged by the spell.
For every two caster levels beyond 1st, you gain an additional missile—two at 3rd level, three at 5th, four at 7th, and the maximum of five missiles at 9th level or higher. If you shoot multiple missiles, you can have them strike a single creature or several creatures. A single missile can strike only one creature. You must designate targets before you check for spell resistance or roll damage.

What we are working with here is obviously an offensive, or Attack, spell.  When we look at the Attack mode in Talislanta we actually have a couple of options:

Damage: 1 Hit Point of damage per Spell Level
Range: 50 feet (-1 to casting roll per 10 extra feet of range)
Duration: Instant / 1 round per level (no range)
Area: -1 to casting roll per foot of radius

In accordance with the rules in the book, we can make this a standard, single target spell, or an area effect spell.  Something more along the lines of the following:


Base Spell Level: 1 (Dynamic)
Range: 50 feet
Area: 0
Duration: Instant
Base Difficulty: -1 per additional HP damage
Example Spells: Arcane Bolt, Necromantic Assault

Or, for the AoE version:


Base Spell Level: 1 (Dynamic)
Range: 50 feet
Area: 5 feet radius (10 ft diameter)
Duration: Instant
Base Difficulty: -6 (-1 per additional HP damage)
Example Spells: Geomantic Blast, Fireball

Depending on description, and house rules, your Bolt spell you use for the single target effect, and your Blast spell you use for multiple opponents, I would definitely allow my players to state that the spell will only effect a maximum of 5 targets, no problem.  Also, this removes the bee-sting effect and can make this simple spell a feared part of any magicians arsenal.  That 3pt damage just became 9 for our Cymrillian friend with a straight d20 roll.

"Wait...he mentioned the rules in the book, what about the house rules he was talking about!"

Never fear!

There are various house rules that I have heard of regarding spells and their usage.  The rules that I personally use have the Spell Level as the only thing that can be changed after learning the spell (as shown above, the Area and Range are static.)  Although I prefer a more static spell, my players do not always like that idea.

For the conversions, I will be using Dynamic and Static spell levels depending on the mode and the spell itself and I will do my best to keep the feel of the spell as written.  This means, of course, that there will likely be 3 or more versions of some of the spells, Magic Missile, for example.

To keep the overall feel of the spell, and not make it horribly difficult to cause minimal damage, let us attack this a different way.

We look at the qualities of the original spell:
  1. It is simple
  2. At base it is single target
  3. It never misses
  4. Just about everyone who casts spells knows it

So, we can use the following for the base:

Magic Missle
Attack Mode
Base Spell Level:  1 (dynamic - meaning we can pump it for more damage)
Range: 50 feet (it halves the range, but we want to keep it as simple as possible)
Duration:  Instant
Special:  Qualitas, unerring, -15
Base Difficulty:  -16 (-1 per additional HP damage)

Hmm...still seems pretty difficulty, but with our +9 to cast it only comes out to a d20-7, still pretty hard for 1 HP damage.  Let us bend the rules a little.  So far I have been using the 'unerring' aspect of the spell as a 'Major Change' to the mode's capabilities, let me drop that to 'Moderate' which will save us -5 and make the Base Difficulty -11 instead.

That still puts our Magician at d20+9-11, or d20-2, but it also gives him the opportunity to boost the damage a little.  To do 5 damage it will put him at that d20-7, and as long as he does not mishap he will hit.

But there is another way...

You can dodge an Arcane Bolt, you cannot dodge a magic missile, so we meet in the middle a little.

Magic Missle
Attack Mode
Base Spell Level: 1 (dynamic)
Range: 50ft
Duration: Instant
Special:  Qualitas, Minor Change, hard to dodge, target dodges at -1/3 spell level, -5
Base Difficulty:  -6

Now we have it set up a bit differently, still having to use Sorcery, but at a much lower difficulty.  While still not the unfailing hit that the d20 version has, this does make it a bit harder to dodge and helps to keep the feel of the spell.  But what about the additional missiles and targets?

Well, a 3rd level Wizard in DnD is actually pretty accomplished when you think about it.  I believe in 3rd edition it breaks down to about 13 encounters per level, lets figure 6-7 encounters per session, so about 4 sessions.

I usually run a 'Heroic' campaign in Talislanta, so the PCs will be getting approximately 20 xp per session.  A decent amount of 80 experience can be given to our young hero and we can get him casting the unerring version without too much difficulty, or we can use Qualitas again...

Magic Missile
Attack Mode
Base Spell Level: 1 (dynamic)
Range: 50ft
Duration: Instant
Special:  Qualitas, Minor Change, hard to dodge -1/3 spell level, -5; Qualitas, additional target -1 per additional target, Minor Change, -5
Base Difficulty:  -11

Still not too shabby, keeps the basic feel of the spell.  Main caveat here though, is the damage would have to be split between the two targets, unless you up the additional target to a Major Change for an additional -5 difficulty.

Granted, that is starting to get very unwieldy, even for our experienced Magician.  Personally, I think the best bet is to leave it single target and use a blast style spell for multiple targets just to keep it simple.

Well, I hope this little venture gave you something to think about, even though it was aimed specifically at d20 and the Talislanta system the thought objects are going to be pretty close with any kind of conversion.

How much CAN we keep from the original?
Can we make it feel the same?
What are the different ways to accomplish the same goal, and which one works best for what we want to do?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Conversion Machine: D20 SRD spells to Talislanta 4th/5th ed Part I

So, for 'funsies' I decided to start converting the D20 SRD spells to the Talislanta 4th/5th edition mix that I use.  'Mix' because I prefer the modes from 4th edition but some of the changes that appeared in 5th edition.

Using the magic system from 4th edition has always been fun for me, I absolutely loved the players that would come to the table wanting to play a caster, but not wanting to take the time and energy to create their beginning spells.

This would allow me to not only have fun creating the spells, but also kind of show them what the magic in Talislanta was like.  From the minor skin and hair enhancements to pillars of flame that destroyed just about anything it touched, magic in Talislanta runs the full spectrum.

At times, using the Omni/Talislanta system for more 'standard' fantasy games, the thrill of watching a player look through their brand new, custom spellbook, carefully reading what I have handed them, to hear them say, "You, sir, are a sick and twisted man."  (This was stated by a player who had taken BattleMagic while looking through his healing spells.  New meaning to "A pox on you and your people!")

This always did seem to put the game on hold, for at least one session, while I crept back into my hole to do my dirty work, and some players just like to have a list of spells to choose from.

This brought me back to memories of searching through the AD&D 1st and 2nd edition spell lists, and, always being a sucker for punishment, I decided to grab the D20 SRD and do some converting.  Most of my players are familiar with DnD in some manner, so they would get a kick out of it.

So, a quick google search and download later, I had the spell descriptions from A-B and my Talislanta modes custom cheat sheet opened in my trusty word processor.

There are some caveats that you have to acknowledge when doing any conversions, especially when you want to stay true to the feel of one game, while using the system from another.

For example, modern magic in the Talislanta RPG system has the following rules:
  1. Cannot return the dead to life
  2. Cannot create life
  3. Cannot affect time or causality
  4. Cannot control two Powers at once (Fire and Earth, for example)
  5. Cannot cast more than one spell at a time or blend two spells together (ie, use two modes at once)
Note that these rules do not apply to ancient magic.

Okay, so I already know there are going to be some issues with spells from DnD, no problem, all of the above can be accomplished using Sorcery from the Codex Magicus.

But then we get into the choices that MUST be made.  While Talislantan magic is very personal and a creative endeavor, magic from DnD is not.  This is because of the history from the two games, not the world history, exactly, the real world history of the games.

DnD sprung from miniature battles, massive scale battlefields and siege rules where wizards stood atop battlements and hammered the opposing army with magical artillery.

Talislanta came from table-top RPGs, where character development and a search for the unknown and history were active at the same time as a heavy interest in the post-apocalyptic genre.  Games such as Shadowrun, Cyberpunk, Earthdawn and Gamma World were all popular.  In a way, Talislanta helped to usher in 'Fantasy-Punk' if you wish to use that term.

One of the big differences that these two paths differ on, is range.

Standard range for an Attack mode spell in Talislanta is 50ft+10ft per additional boost, in DnD the range is much further.  The quintessential 'Magic Missle' spell, for example, is 100ft+10ft per level.

Additionally, targeting is different.  In Talislanta, that magic bolt effects only a single target while in DnD you gain an additional missile every two levels (max of 5) that can be split between up to 5 targets.  Also, the Talislanta bolt requires a roll to hit, the magic missile is unerring and always strikes its target.

As I said before, a lot of these differences can be ignored, or you can use the Sorcery rules from the Codex Magicus to get a more exact conversion.  But how does that effect the usefulness of the spells themselves?

Let us look at Magic Missile.

First, from the D20 SRD:
Magic Missile
Evocation [Force]
Level: Sor/Wiz 1
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
Targets: Up to five creatures, no two of which can be more than 15 ft. apart
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: Yes
A missile of magical energy darts forth from your fingertip and strikes its target, dealing 1d4+1 points of force damage.
The missile strikes unerringly, even if the target is in melee combat or has less than total cover or total concealment. Specific parts of a creature can’t be singled out. Inanimate objects are not damaged by the spell.
For every two caster levels beyond 1st, you gain an additional missile—two at 3rd level, three at 5th, four at 7th, and the maximum of five missiles at 9th level or higher. If you shoot multiple missiles, you can have them strike a single creature or several creatures. A single missile can strike only one creature. You must designate targets before you check for spell resistance or roll damage.

This is a 'Level 1' spell for Sorcerers and Wizards, an 'easy' incantation that almost every single player I have met has in their wizards repertoire.

Now let us look at the Talislanta version using the basic rules for magic:
Magic Missile
Attack Mode
Level: 1+
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Medium (50 ft. + 10 ft./additional -1 to casting roll)
Targets: 1
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: Evade (yes, in Talislanta, you can dodge offensive magic)
Spell Resistance: Yes (lets face it, resistance to magic is pretty universal)
Base Difficulty:  -1 per Spell Level
A missile of magical energy darts forth from your fingertip and strikes its target, dealing 1 point of force damage per Spell Level.

As you can see, the range is much lower, and you have a chance to miss.  Also missing is the ability to target multiple creatures.  Another realization is that while the DnD Magic Missile tops out at 5d4+5, there is no upper limit to Spell Levels in Talislanta, although I would not suggest casting a spell more than 1.5x your total bonus, that can get nasty.

Now let us look at the Talislanta version using a direct conversion:
Magic Missile
Attack Mode
Level:  3+
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
Targets: Up to five creatures, no two of which can be more than 15 ft. apart
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: Yes
Base Difficulty:  -33 (Qualitas, unerring -15; Qualitas, additional missile per additional 2 levels max 5, -10; minimum range -5, Spell Level 3 base)
A missile of magical energy darts forth from your fingertip and strikes its target, dealing 3 (avg 1d4+1) points of force damage.
The missile strikes unerringly, even if the target is in melee combat or has less than total cover or total concealment. Specific parts of a creature can’t be singled out. Inanimate objects are not damaged by the spell.
For every three spell levels beyond 3rd, you gain an additional missile—two at 6rd level, three at 9th, four at 12th, and the maximum of five missiles at 15th level or higher. If you shoot multiple missiles, you can have them strike a single creature or several creatures. A single missile can strike only one creature. You must designate targets before you check for spell resistance or roll damage.

YIKES!  This simple, basic spell just became a Master-Level...bee sting.

Now, to put this in perspective we will look at what a beginning Talislantan Wizard has for his skill.  I am choosing the Cymrillian Magician from the 4th Edition Talislanta book to use as an example.  The reason for this choice is simple, they are supposed to be the absolute best at spellslinging.

With Magic Rating of +6, and beginning mode at +3 for a total of +9, that shows great potential.  So, to cast even the most basic of the direct conversion, our awesome Magician, best you can get for a starting character, will roll d20-24 (d20+MR+Mode-Difficulty).  Ouch!  He just got fried, for a whopping 3-6 points of damage depending on house rules for Magical Mishaps (or, he just had the party teleported to some random dimension...).

Now, this does not mean that our Magic Missle cannot be done, it just shows how different the two schools of thought are, and pretty major genre differences.

Okay, so this leaves us with some serious thinking to do.  Not to worry, I will show another way to work this next time, and it will actually make the spell more powerful, and easier for our Cymrillian friend.

Until next time, enjoy your game.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

GM Notes: Talislantan/Omni Magic

House Rules are always a GMs favorite tool.  Today I am going to talk about the house rules for the Talislanta setting and Omni system that are going through my head.

 Magic is such a large part of any fantasy genre game that special attention must be paid.
First, I use a combination of 4th and 5th edition Talislanta.  I use the modes from 4th edition, with the changes from 5th edition for the calculation of spell levels, range, etc.

Per my standard house rules, characters receive a number of spells in each mode equal to their Mode Rating, or Skill Level in that mode, plus an additional number of spells equal to their Magic Rating.  The bonus spells from Magic Rating do not have to be in any particular mode.

For example, Azadim, a Cymrillian Magician has the following modes: Attack +3, Influence +2, Defend +3, Alter +4, Heal +3 and a Magic Rating of +5.  This gives him a starting spell list consisting of 3 Attack, 2 Influence, 3 Defend, 4 Alter and 3 Heal spells.  The bonus starting spells he receives from his +5 Magic Rating he decides to put 2 into Alter (total 6 Alter), 2 into Attack (total 5 Attack), 1 into Heal (total 4) and the last into Influence (total 3).  Altogether, this gives our intrepid adventurer 18 spells in his repertoire.  Not too bad, really.

Now, I have to make a choice.  Flavor text describes Talislantans as always being on the lookout for new spells, especially Archean (ancient) spells that do not fit into the modern magic system.  Another section talks about how Talislantans have hundreds of spells.  Even another section describes players coming up with spells on the fly.

Yeah...not so much my cuppatea.

I have already limited the number of spells each character has, now its time to put them to work.  If we look at magicians in our standard way, and realize that this is a post-apocalyptic setting, then it would not be too far of a stretch to say that magicians do not spill all their secrets.

So...the choice is Dynamic vs Static spells, or Dynamic vs Semi-Static spells.

Common practice dictates that anything that is bound to Spell Level is scalable.  So for the Heal mode, you would only need 4 spells:  Heal, Harm, Cause Disease and Cure Disease.

And to make matters worse, with scaling involved, you would only need a few of each mode.

Attack: 3 spells; Bolt, Blast and Melee
Alter: 4 spells; Increase Attribute, Decrease Attribute, Increase Skill, Decrease Skill
Conjure: 2 spells; Conjure by Mass, Conjure by Area
Defend: 4 spells; Aura, Flat Barrier, Cone/Cylinder Barrier, Dome/Sphere Barrier
Heal: 4 spells; Heal, Harm, Cause Disease, Cure Disease
Illusion: 1 spell
Influence: 1 spell
Move: 1 spell
Reveal: 3 spells; Reveal, Scrying, Conceal
Summon: 2 spells; Summon, Banish
Transform: 5 spells; Trivial Change, Minor Change, Major Change, Radical Change, Complete Change
Ward: 2 spells; Ward, Hex

But, if all the spells are the same, and there are only 32 distinct spells...what about all that searching and secrecy that wizards are known for?

How about if only the Spell Level effects are scalable and everything else is static, like range or number of targets?  Okay, that helps a little, but still leaves us with basically 3 attack spells and 4 heal spells.  Still seems rather weenie in the grand scheme of things.

So let us take a look at the flip side, NOTHING is dynamic and the spell creation system is just that, a way to create static effect spells.  Now we have something to go on: a bunch of not-too-happy players.

Well, we never want unhappy players.

There is a middle ground.  Scalable effects, those that effect Spell Level only, can only be scaled up or down a number of levels equal to the Magic Rating of the caster from the base spell.

Hey!  Now that sounds like a good plan!  The GM is happy because he sees the wizard PCs scrambling for new spells and the PCs are happy because they get to do some cool scaling effects.

I have not playtested this yet, or mentioned it to my players, but you can expect me to test it before too long.

(This has been playtested since I originally wrote it, the happy medium was found: players get all basic skills in each mode they have; Spell Level is scale-able, everything else is static)

Enjoy the game!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Gimmick Character

First, let me explain what a 'Gimmick Character' is, for my thoughts.

A 'Gimmick Character' is a character that an overblown schtick.

Let us take the 'Sci-Fi Gunslinger' as an example.

Character is built around the Gunslinger look and feel made popular by Hollywood westerns such as Tombstone.  He is a sure shot with a pistol, and almost as good with his rifle.  Can do the bareknuckles fighting and the gambling, usually playing poker or whatever card game fits the setting.

He is cordial to the ladies, speaks in strange vernaculars and has a rough and tumble exterior.

"So what is wrong with that?" you ask.

It depends on how far you take that character.

If you focus everything around 1 thing that defines the character, it becomes a 'Gimmick.'

He walks bowlegged, chews 'tobacky,' constantly talks about horses, checks his pocketwatch every 30 seconds, you have the need to describe his spurs at all times, has a HUGE belt buckle (which, fyi, they really did not have), kills people over the slightest insult towards his horse or his hat, is always drinking 'rotgut,' and is always asking for 'rotgut' in a campaign setting where it will obviously not be available.

That is the way to play that character as a 'Gimmick.'

Want to play the cowboy and not be a 'Gimmick' character?

Easy, describe your character, once for each new player to the group.  Focus on what makes the character who he is, not who he looks like.  In other words, don't over-do it.

I played the cowboy above, and yes, he had a 'gimmick.'  But it was downplayed.  For the most part, he was just an offworlder trying to make good in his job.  He tipped his hat to the ladies, did not back down from a fight, and 'shot straight.'

But I did not play up the gimmick to the point of making the entire focus of the character, "Hey look at me, I'm a COWBOY!"  I tried to leave it all in the back of the story.

Because the story was about the group of characters, not just mine.

Indiana Jones had a schtick, his hat.  Yes he would go back for it.

Indiana Jones as a gimmick character would name his hat, talk to it, have his hat define who he was.

Want to be the 'loner' - read a Choose Your Own Adventure book
Want to be the 'Emotionless one' - those are called Sociopaths, you are the bad guy
Want to be the 'Volitile Angry Guy' - those are Psychopaths, again, that makes you the bad guy

Don't be a gimmick, be a character.
Work with the team, the game is not just about you.
Get stuff done.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

That One Game...

We all have it...that "One Game."

The game that inspires us to creativity, the game that we grabs a hold of us and just will not let go.
That game that reshapes our imaginations, gets our creative juices flowing.

For some, that game is Dungeons and Dragons, for others it is Kult, or Star Wars, or Shadowrun, or Cyberpunk.  For me, that game is SLA Industries.

Throughout my game materials, notebooks, supplements, miniatures, props, etc, I have materials relating to my SLA Industries games.  Most of the content I have written for games, was written for SLA Industries.

Pages of NPCs, new weapons, new skill packages (classes), equipment lists, fashion styles, new races, pages upon pages, digital and physical, the ideas just keep flowing.

Just searching the internet, looking through the newspaper or merely even talking to people will get me thinking of a new idea, or how to work something into my game.

Back in 1993, I met a fellow gamer at the local shop in a town of around 3k people, in a rural area of Missouri.  I forget why we went out to his house, which was in an even more rural area, but while he was gathering his RPG stuff and tuning his paintball marker I found a book on his floor.

I sat there in his room, flipping through the book, entranced by the artwork.  Yes, just the ARTWORK.

It was all black, white and grey, some line art, some charcoal, some inked, but it captured me.

When we returned to the gaming store, I immediately put in an order for the book.  A week later it was in my hands.  I devoured it.  Within two weeks I started running the game.  Remember, this was 1993, almost 20 years ago.

To put this in perspective, I purchased my first SLA Industries book before Magic: the Gathering was sold at the local shop (granted, only a few weeks before), before the ill-fated Maztica for AD&D 2nd edition was released, before 2nd edition Vampire: The Masquerade came out.

And I am still running the game, still seeing elements of our world that can be used or exploited for my role-playing endeavor.

There have been moments during this time that I have taken a short break and ran AD&D, Talislanta, Star Wars and a couple one-shot games, but I always return to SLA Industries.

The game where a massive company owns almost all of the 'Known Universe,' were if you do not work for the company, you work for a Soft Company (small company with no backing or a direct competitor), a terrorist trying to bring down SLA Industries, or one of the unemployed masses.

The game where serial killers are so prolific they are not even acknowledged until their 13th kill, where violence and sex on the TV are the norm, not the exception.

Maybe the space in my heart for this game is because it is so far fetched, maybe it is the artwork, or maybe it is because of the ease with which I can setup and run a mission.

Maybe it is because, if you think about it, the game is so close to our own world...

Just some thoughts, enjoy your game.